Looking to get back on track after the first three game losing streak of the season, the Toronto Marlies headed on the road to face three highly rated Eastern Conference adversaries.
It was a weekend that began well against Atlantic opposition but slowly and surely went downhill, finishing with a poor showing in Albany.
We witnessed the very best of the Toronto Marlies with their current line-up, as they demolished a good Portland Pirates team Friday evening.
Blasting out to a three goal lead in ten minutes, it was one way traffic until Portland got themselves on the board with nicely worked goal before the end of the first. Toronto put the game to bed in the middle frame with two goals in as many minutes and further three in the second half of the period.
Tobias Lindberg came close to recording his first hat-trick while the power play finally clicked, netting twice, as Toronto cruised to an impressive 9-2 victory. Mark Arcobello and Connor Brown recorded four points while the aforementioned Lindberg and Sam Carrick had two goals a piece.
With the standard set in Portland, the same level would be required against the Pirates bitter rivals in the form of the Providence Bruins. For thirty minutes Toronto were again excellent and deserved led by two goals inside nine minutes. Matt Frattin and Kasperi Kapanen with the first period markers, while Antoine Bibeau remained solid between the pipes as anything the Bruins threw his way.
The Marlies were unable to take chances to increase their lead and the Bruins took control of the game at the midway mark.
Toronto’s lead only held after forty minutes thanks to Bibeau, but he would be helpless to stop the home team tying the game inside the first four minutes of the third period.
Frank Vatrano orchestrated the first scored by Alexander Khokhlachev, while a badly timed pinch by Justin Holl allowed Brian Ferlin to score on an odd man rush. The Marlies would eventually calm the storm but failed to trouble Providence, firing just four times at net in the final twenty minutes.
Overtime produced a couple of chances for both teams but the momentum swing was firmly with the home team who gained the extra point with a second goal from Ferlin.
Despite taking the loss, Toronto had shown overall good discipline against a Bruins team whose special teams have been excellent this season. Facing an Albany team, also highly skilled in those departments, Toronto lost their heads and the game.
With both teams playing their third game in as many days, albeit Toronto with more travel, it looked to be an even playing field. In-fact you could argue it should have been the Marlies who held the edge with the Devils shorn of much offensive talent through call-ups and injuries.
The opening twenty minutes was lacking action in front of net and gave no hint at the madness to come from Toronto in the second period.
Brendan Leipsic opening the scoring with exactly one minute on the clock would be as good as it would get for the visitors. Persistent penalty trouble (five minors in twelve minutes) would be Toronto’s undoing as Raman Hrabarenka tallied twice on the power play in the span of two and a half minutes.
Despite Toronto appearing incredibly tired in the third period, Eric Faille showed a burst of speed to tie the game with a fine individual wraparound goal. It would prove to be just one of three shots for the Marlies in the third and as time ran down it looked like overtime for consecutive games. Frankly it would have been had Toronto decided not to throw the puck up the middle of their own zone inside the last minute. They duly paid the price for that error and subsequent missed assignments, as Nick Lappin scored what would prove the game winner, uncontested in front.
Three points gained this weekend edges the Toronto Marlies a little closer to confirming a playoff berth, with the magic number down to three at the time of writing.
Just one victory in their last six games has halted the Marlies charge towards winning the regular season AHL title. Ontario Reign have closed to within 0.044% with just one regulation loss in their last nine games (7-1-1-0).
The nine goals scored by Toronto Friday night, was the fourth occasion they’ve done so this season.
The other 29 AHL teams combined have scored 9+ goals in a game twice.
The five goals scored by Toronto in the second period of the Portland game is a seasonal high after scoring four times on two previous occasions.
A seasonal low for overall shots taken on Sunday, as Toronto managed just 19 against Albany.
Special teams and discipline really let the Marlies down when it mattered most. The two power play goals were attained in Portland when the game was dead as a contest. Five opportunities went begging in Albany, providing the home team with as many in return and paying the price on two occasions.
Discipline was better in Providence but the Marlies failed to take advantage of a double minor power play which would have made a big difference.
Mark Arcobello recorded four points Friday night but was unavailable due to illness for the rest of the weekend and was replaced by Brett Findlay.
T.J Brennan responded to being reassigned by recording three assists and his points tally stands at 58 points from 62 games.
Rich Clune’s solitary assist took him to the twenty point mark this season. He’s just two shy of equalling his seasonal career best in the AHL.
Since his return to the Marlies, Josh Leivo has just two points (both attained in Portland) in seven games. Snake bitten this past weekend, it’s no exaggeration to say Leivo could have himself 5-6 goals instead of the single tally.
Taylor Doherty made his Toronto Marlies debut Friday night after being signed to a PTO. Paired with Stuart Percy he didn’t look too far out of place, helping himself to an assist. Was guilty of taking a double minor on Sunday with an ungainly high sticking penalty which wouldn’t have endeared him to Sheldon Keefe.
Goaltending wasn’t the issue this weekend. Antoine Bibeau did what was required Friday evening with a solid performance. He would be excellent in Saturday’s overtime loss, especially for the second half of the game which Boston dominated and deserved better for his 35 saves.
Alex Stalock made 21 saves on his second start for Toronto and did his utmost to keep a tired and offensively shy Marlies in Sunday’s outing.
Brendan Leipsic’s lone goal this weekend was his 17th of the season. The winger has six points during a current four game point streak.
Matt Frattin passed the thirty point mark and is riding a four game point streak.
Fri, Mar 18, 2016 Lehigh Valley at Toronto 7:00 pm
Sat, Mar 19, 2016 Providence at Toronto 3:00 pm
Sun, Mar 20, 2016 Toronto at Lake Erie 3:00 pm